The Festival of Insignificance

It was the month of June, the morning sun was emerging from the clouds, and Alain was walking slowly down a Paris street. He observed the young girls, who – everyone of them – showed her naked navel between trousers belted very low and a T-shirt cut very short. He was captivated; captivated and even disturbed: It was as if their seductive power no longer resided in their thighs, their buttocks, or their breasts, but in that small round hole located in the center of the body.


I had decided to forgo reading the reviews of the most recent Milan Kundra book before I went head on and read it intermittently on Saturday. Intermittently because partaking of a Kundera book in one sitting is akin to engorging the entire buffet.

So slowly I went on enjoying, savoring each sentence that are resonant of his style (if there is such a). His meanderings, the philosophical digressions (they call them) can be jarring for most, the narrator too loquacious, but I have come to expect them.

I must admit, shamefully, that I do not anymore remember how I first came across his work, and I admit (shamefully again) that it was The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I fell in love with it that I imagined myself as Tomas cleaning windows in Prague in the 1960s, sampling the endless permutations of women, my hair smelling like it were doused in vaginal discharge after my many trysts, and being told by Tereza afterwards to wash my hair.

Reviewing my old posts on this blog, I found none of those I tagged under the author’s name and that title could help me recall how I got hold of my copy of Lightness. My copy is badly mangled, scandalously highlighted, overly-annotated. I do not anymore remember how many times I have lent it and prayed that my precious copy be returned. After that, I, little by little, unconsciously at first, ravenously next, bought all his titles, including his books of essays.

I fell too madly, deeply in love with his works. The Joke, The Farewell Waltz, Life Is Elsewhere, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Testament Betrayed, Immortality, Slowness, Identity, Ignorance, and most recentlyThe Festival of Insignificance. I came close to donning a black turtleneck all the time. But of course, I won’t, as wearing a black turtleneck can be a challenge to justify.

If I had books that would most closely mark my twenties, they’re Kundera’s.

One thing stays persistently, paraphrasing Sabina, nothing matters in the long run.

I read Kundera for the meanderings and how these departures emphasize his incisive observations on the absurd, the banal, the insignificant. And by writing about them, he artistically made them all reasonable, original, consequential. Yes even the navel.

Such is the power of Milan Kundera.

Thinking about immortality while listening to John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jetplane”


To be immortal is commonplace; except for man, all creatures are immortal, for they are ignorant of death; what is divine, terrible, incomprehensible, is to know that one is immortal – Jorge Luis Borges, The Immortal

Borges, my favorite writer these days (as ‘favorite’ is a word in eternal flux), never fails to surprise me with his paradoxes bordering on the eccentric. I always bring this gray paperback wherever I go, reading and rereading his essays and trying to go back to the pages I’ve already understood thinking that I might have missed something and that I have misunderstood him. Sometimes I feel like he’s laughing at my gullibility in believing in his historical accounts of people I have never heard of. Most of the time I cannot bring myself to believe in anything he says but I know that dismissing them outright as impossible is a lost chance of looking at the world in his perspective.

Let’s take for instance his take on immortality. According to him, in spite of religions, the idea of immortality is very rare. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity profess immortality, but the veneration they render this world proves they believe only in it since they destine all other worlds, in infinite number, to be its reward or punishment. But immortality entails neither beginning nor end, that all things happen to all men, that each life is the effect of the preceding and engenders the following, but none determines the totality.

After a harrowing day, I, for a moment, was incapable of thinking about my immortality. And it occurred to me that from that moment I’ve forgotten thinking about my eventual demise until this time, I was immortal.

At least according to Borges.